As COVID-19 variants continue to spread across Saskatchewan and with outbreaks in 82 schools, the union representing 7,000 education support workers is calling on the provincial government to stop misleading the people of Saskatchewan and immediately step up its efforts to make schools safe.
On March 22, 2021, Premier Moe announced that 100,000 rapid tests were being deployed to Saskatchewan schools and that testing could begin right away, even though the premier knew full well that the protocols and staffing required to administer these tests were not in place. In making this statement, the premier either deliberately misled the public, or had no detailed knowledge of his own safe school’s plan. This single action has increased the stress and fear that education staff have been feeling since the start of the pandemic.
“Education workers have felt ignored and abandoned from the very beginning of this government’s failed attempt to keep our schools safe, and with these multiple outbreaks, the situation has become completely intolerable,” said Rob Westfield, an education support worker and chair of CUPE Saskatchewan’s Education Workers’ Steering Committee. “The province has once again abandoned its responsibility and has left school divisions struggling to create their own plans for rapid testing.”
There are many protocols that must be put in place before rapid tests can be administered in Saskatchewan schools.
“Schools have to create and distribute permission forms for parents to sign, hire qualified personnel to administer the tests and create a space to do so. This takes time, and in the meantime, our education workers are forced to put their lives at risk because they were left out of the phase one vaccinations,” added Westfield. “The government is asking us to go into unsafe schools without a vaccination.”
For many staff, the only way they could stay safe and keep their families safe was to take sick leave, unpaid leave or even retire. Others were forced to use sick days to self-isolate and get COVID tests that would take days to reveal that they were negative. Many education support workers are feeling overworked, mentally and physically drained, with anxiety and fear of the unknown future.
“It’s up to every employer to provide a safe workplace, and when it comes to safe schools, the number of recent infections proves that the provincial government has failed in their responsibility to do so. Now is the time for this government to address the crisis of COVID cases in schools and take immediate action to protect staff and students, and ensure our kids are getting the safe education they deserve,” said Judy Henley, President of CUPE Saskatchewan.
There are many steps the province can take to ensure the safety and security of our education system over the long term, including providing sufficient funding in its upcoming budget to address overcrowding in schools. In the meantime, until our schools can be deemed safe, education workers must get vaccinated immediately.
“Vaccinating education workers immediately will ensure that both students and staff are safe during this recent surge in cases,” added Henley. “Saskatchewan parents need to have confidence that their children and family are safe. The evidence is clear that ignoring this issue will only prolong the length of time we will be living with this virus, and more Saskatchewan people will die needlessly.”
CUPE represents educational assistants, caretakers and maintenance staff, administrative assistants, library assistants, bus drivers and several other classifications in Saskatchewan’s K-12 education system.